NEW HAVEN, Conn, Reuters
U.S. President George W.Bush made light of his mediocre grades and reputation for partying when he returned to his alma mater Yale University on Monday to accept an honorary degree to a blend of applause and boos.
Some students booed and waved signs criticizing Bush’s policies on the environment, the death penalty and abortion and about 200 professors boycotted the commencement as he received a doctor of laws degree, but the atmosphere at the ceremony was largely good-natured as students celebrated their graduation.
Dressed in a flowing blue academic robe, the Republican president said he was honored to receive the degree and spoke with nostalgia and humor of his time at Yale, an elite, 300-year-old private university from which he kept his distance as he campaigned for Texas governor and for president.
“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the “C” students, I say: you too can be president,” Bush said to a roar of laughter from the more than 2,000 graduates and their families who thronged Yale’s vast Old Campus quadrangle on a cool and cloudy day.
Bush also gently twitted his vice president, Dick Cheney, who attended Yale but dropped out without getting his degree.
“A Yale degree is worth a lot, as I often remind Dick Cheney,” Bush said. “If you graduate from Yale, you become president. If you drop out, you get to be vice president.”
At the ceremony, students unfurled long banners that said “Execute justice, not people,” and “Stop Global AIDS” and held hand-written signs reading “Reproductive Rights: Make Yale Proud” and “We earned our degrees. Don’t cheapen our degrees.”
More than 200 professors signed a statement criticizing many of the same policies and vowing to boycott the ceremony.
But the protests were peaceful and the atmosphere generally upbeat, with applause louder than the boos. At one point students, joined by professors and by White House chief of staff Andrew Card,”did the wave” by swaying back and forth.
The visit marks a homecoming for Bush, who was born in New Haven when his father, former President George Bush, was a student at Yale. The president’s daughter, Barbara, has just completed her first year at the university.